“Economic policies should reflect every complexity and nuance of a country, as no issue is straightforward and development is not a one-size-fits-all.”

This is an assertion Erin Farmer, a University of Arkansas student, believes in. Erin recently completed a two-month graduate research internship with the Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC).

Erin is currently pursuing three undergraduate degrees; a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, a Bachelor of Science in Physics, and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, with a minor in international economic development. Her research focus while on internship at SEPARC was on ‘The Effects of Research and Development Funding in the Economy of Eswatini’.

While at SEPARC, she worked on analysing the effects of changes in government research and development funding on the economy. Through her time here, Erin was able to incorporate research and development (R&D) into Eswatini’s social accounting matrix, and from there she specified a model to look at R&D and worked on coding the model in GAMS.

“The working experience at SEPARC was very engaging and rewarding. I was encouraged to think critically about every issue I came across, including those I was unfamiliar with. I also learned a lot from the other researchers and interns in the office. Every day was challenging, rewarding, and educational, and I am grateful to have gotten this experience,” she said.

“Through my time at SEPARC, I have learned that no issue is straightforward. You must look at it from every angle possible and once you have done that, you must do it again. Countries are not the same and development is not one-size-fits-all. Any economic policy should be created to reflect every complexity and nuance of a country. I have also learned the importance of persistence in research. There will inevitably be challenges that you did not foresee, but you just have to keep trying.”

During her stay in Eswatini, Erin also took some time off to enjoy the country’s tourist attractions. She said her time in Eswatini allowed her to become immersed in the culture and see much of the beautiful country.

“I learned so much not only about Eswatini, but also about myself. I feel as though I have grown a lot as a person and hopefully, I will carry that with me home. Every day brought new experiences and new people, and I am grateful for all the time I was able to spend here,” she added.

“I really enjoyed working at SEPARC. I especially enjoyed sharing an office with the other interns because it allowed for exchanging of thoughts and ideas, and I loved getting to know them better. Everyone encourages critical thinking and working to the best of your ability, and I enjoyed being challenged to think more deeply about some of the issues discussed. The environment was also friendly and uplifting.”

Erin also had the opportunity to visit a number of high schools around the country as part of SEPARC’s development outreach programme where the researchers visit learners in rural areas to motivate them and also inform them of the various available opportunities for tertiary study abroad.

“If you want to pursue studies in the United States of America, my message would be that there is always a way. Not every college/university will offer funding, but there are so many that do, especially at the (post) graduate level. Also, I would be happy to answer any questions if anyone would like to reach out to me directly!”

Two years ago, Erin participated in a service learning programme in Mozambique and began working on two economic development research projects, one of which was ‘The Elicit Demand-side Drivers of Food Security: A Choice Experiment in Northern Mozambique’. Last year, she travelled to Belize for an ongoing study that seeks to research ‘The Extent of HIV/AIDS Testing, Contraceptive Use, and the Causes of Poor Reproductive Health’.

After visiting Mozambique, Erin fell in love with southern Africa and became interested in economic development in this part of the world. So when her professor at the University of Arkansas, Dr Lanier Nalley described the opportunity of a project in Eswatini, she jumped at the chance to once again work in southern Africa.

In parting, Erin advised that it might be beneficial for her fellow American interns to know a little more about the country and the projects they would be embarking on before they arrive in Eswatini, as this may allow for better preparation on their part.